The Perceived Value of Intercultural Competence

A new survey titled “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success” by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) reveals significant disparities between the perceptions of students and employers related to readiness for future careers and the importance of diversity and intercultural learning outcomes. The survey sample includes 613 students at private and public two and four year institutions and 400 CEO’s and executives from private or non-profit organizations.

One of the most surprising metrics is that less than two in five employers rated the following learning outcomes as very important:
Awareness of and experience with diverse cultures and communities within the U.S. 37%
Staying current on global developments and trends 25%
Awareness of and experience with cultures and societies outside of the United States 23%
Proficiency in a language other than English 23%

Despite the lack of emphasis by employers on these diversity and democratic learning outcomes, employers rated students as less prepared in these areas than the students did themselves:
Competency
Employer Rating//Student Rating

Awareness of and experience with diverse cultures and communities within the U.S. 25% //48%
Staying current on global developments and trends 16% //34%
Awareness of and experience with cultures and societies outside of the United States 15% //42%
Proficiency in a language other than English 16% //34%

Only 21 percent of employers strongly agreed that all college students should gain intercultural skills and an understanding of societies outside the U.S., while 57 percent agreed somewhat. By contrast, 87 percent of students felt that such skills were important. A similar gap was found between employer and student perceptions of the knowledge students should have of democratic institutions and preparation for citizenship in a democratic society.

The lack of emphasis on intercultural understanding by employers is striking, given the fact that in the U.S. alone there are more than 20,000 multinational companies, that exceed the number of companies in the Fortune 1,000 or the Fortune 5,000. And the average U.S. based multinational company generates roughly 45 percent of their revenue from countries outside the U.S. The boundary between local and global has become blurred, as most companies compete in a global marketplace.

The survey also reveals that students agree with employers on the value of cross-cutting skills of teamwork, communication, critical thinking, ethical decision-making and applying knowledge in real-world settings as learning outcomes. Ironically, however, in a global society and even within the United States all of these components demand a high level of cultural competency, a recognition of cultural pluralism, and the ability to communicate effectively with individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Perhaps the employers’ perspectives could be viewed as what Derald Wing Sue calls “ethnocentric monoculturalism,” a Eurocentric focus that fails to recognize the importance of connections and communication in a multicultural society and global economic environment. Instead, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter indicates, the reality is that companies need to thrive locally in a global economy by creating new world-class mindsets that embody globally relevant skills.

While employers in the AACU survey endorsed an applied learning emphasis in higher education, they also appeared not to acknowledge the importance of intercultural skills and competence as part of what is needed in an applied learning focus. If we are indeed living in what Fareed Zakaria calls “the rise of the rest” in a post-American world defined and directed by people from many locations our educational systems, in turn, must be finely tuned to the development of the applied cultural competency needed for college graduates to thrive in this new, global millennium. As he writes:

Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that by the turn of the 21st century, the United States had succeeded in its great, historical mission—globalizing the world. We don’t want them to write that along the way, we forgot to globalize ourselves.

Why We Need to Reclaim MLK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On this national holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. many of us nationwide took to the streets in “reclaim MLK” protests.  Why a need to reclaim the legacy of Dr.King?  Part of it has to do with that speech.

MLK_photo

 

(Photo from Sean Elias)

You know the one. The “I got a dream speech,” as someone referred to it recently. The speech that everyone half-remembers and selectively quotes every January. Based on a collective quoting-out-of-context from that speech, King has been elevated to a patriotic mascot praising America’s relentless and inevitable progress on racism. In his book, The Speech, Gary Younge lays out the story behind the speech which was, in fact, a searing indictment of American racism.  Younge describes our misremembering this way:

“Half a century after the March on Washington and the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the event has been neatly folded into America’s patriotic mythology. Relatively few people know or recall that the Kennedy administration tried to get organizers to call it off; that the FBI tried to dissuade people from coming; that racist senators tried to discredit the leaders; that twice as many Americans had an unfavorable view of the march as a favorable one. Instead, it is hailed not as a dramatic moment of mass, multiracial dissidence, but as a jamboree in Benetton Technicolor, exemplifying the nation’s unrelenting progress toward its founding ideals.”

People forget, too, that King was very nearly a social pariah among most white Americans. In 1966, twice as many Americans had an unfavorable opinion of him as a favorable one.

Much less frequently quoted on this holiday is MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he writes that:

“the great stumbling block in [the] stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

Or, his 1967 speech at Riverside Church, in which he responds to the question “What about Vietnam?” by saying:

“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”

Today, we have certainly made symbolic progress as a nation, and even some material progress. We have a black president of the US, who can say and do a very little to address racism. And, Oprah Winfrey is so fabulously wealthy she has an amphitheater in her backyard in which she can host a gospel brunch, because that was Dr. King’s dream. Or, so she says.

At the same time, we live in a nation in which more black people have been killed by police than were lynched during Jim Crow. Despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act, 1 in 13 African Americans are blocked from voting due to systematic disenfranchisement. And, the carceral machinery churns up black lives at a prodigious rate. Sixty years after Brown vs. the Board of Education, our schools are more racially segregated than ever. The black-white wealth gap has, at the end of 2014, reached at 24-year high.

MLKs_Dream

(Photo by Marina Ortiz, East Harlem Preservation)

So, when people to the streets and to Twitter to #reclaimMLK, it was to remind us all of the radical tradition of a Dr. King who called out the stumbling block of white moderates who value order more than justice and the violence of our own government.

Redefining the Vocabulary of Microaggressions

A new report by Harvard University’s Voices of Diversity Project (VoD) draws on interviews with at least 50 African-American, Latina/o, Asian-American and Native American students at each of four universities regarding their on-campus undergraduate experiences related to their racial/ethnic background, sex, or both. The co-authors, Paula Caplan and Jordan Ford, report on the students’ experiences of racist and sexist mistreatment that took shape in “microaggressions” or subtle, cumulative, and repetitive acts of marginalization and stereotyping.

The concept of “micro-inequities” has received considerable research attention and refers to small incidents of everyday discrimination that have replaced the more overt acts of discrimination characteristic of the pre-Civil Rights era. Micro-inequities can be unspoken, repeated messages that may be invisible to others but send devaluing messages to the targets that hinder these individuals’ performance and impact self-esteem. The vocabulary of micro-inequities dates back to the 1970’s when Mary Rowe, Ombudsperson at MIT, noted the ephemeral, difficult-to-prove events that she saw as the “principal scaffolding for discrimination in the United States.” A more extensive taxonomy of these day-to-day behavioral indignities was developed by Gerald Wing Sue and others that includes microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations.

Yet at what point do “micro-aggressions” become “macro-aggressions”? Take the experiences of mistreatment cited by a Latina senior quoted in the VoD study: “I go nuts. I do….it hurts so much, so much, it’s indescribable the way it makes you feel” (p. 40). The Latina senior goes on to say, “My whole body becomes hot, and your eyes automatically become glassy, because you just feel so inferior….” Or the commentary of an African-American male student, “What can I do? I feel useless. I’m being hurt by this person. It’s messing with me emotionally.” The profound psychological damage caused by racism is not adequately captured in the term “micro-inequity” or “micro-aggression.” As Joe Feagin points out in Systemic Racism (2006), the pain of racism is part of lived experience and to begin to even calculate its costs “one would need to add…the other personal, family, and community costs over the centuries—the intense pain and suffering, the physical and psychological damage, the rage over injustice, and the huge loss of energy” that could have been used for other purposes (p. 20). Perhaps we need a new vocabulary to identify these high costs.

Similarly, consider the example that Alvin Evans and I cite in our new book, The Department Chair as Transformative Diversity Leader (2015) of an African American faculty member who became the first African American department chair at his religiously-affiliated university. When he was first hired as one of the few African American faculty at that institution, a religious studies professor whose office was next to his refused to speak with him for 10 years:

He didn’t talk to me for 10 years, not a word. . . . He didn’t believe I was qualified, he didn’t believe that I was a real intellectual, I was only hired so that the university could say that we had Black professors.

In fact, the religious studies professor would talk about the African American faculty member with his door wide open so he could hear. Later, when the African American faculty member became chair, the religious studies professor had to speak with him. The chair would regularly ask him a question about diversity. The religious studies professor would inevitably answer, “I think we’re already diverse.” Needless to say, the chair was not invited to the religious studies professor’s retirement dinner.

Or in another interview study in 2012, we similarly found examples of the pain caused by exclusionary practices and behaviors in the workplace. For example, Claudia, an African-American administrator, was singled out in a staff meeting by her white male supervisor who was speaking of African-Americans in general: “Oh, I don’t mean you. You’re different, you’re an Oreo.’ Claudia responded, “You know, I’m sorry I think that most people would recognize that as being a racial slur.” The supervisor replied, “Oh I don’t mean that. You are one of them that has common sense.” The repeated actions of the supervisor caused Claudia extreme physical and psychological anguish:

When I had that very discriminatory supervisor, I had extremely high blood pressure. I was on three medications. They were at the maximum dosage and my blood pressure was still uncontrollable. My doctor kept telling me I needed to quit my job because he was said I was going to die. He said I was going to just have a stroke or heart attack because my blood pressure was so high.

These examples across the spectrum of students, faculty, and administrators illustrate the long-term psychological and physical damage resulting from what are more than microaggressions (actually, macroaggressions).

To counteract such practices, the Harvard VoD Project identifies the proactive work undertaken by Missouri State University, one of the institutional participants, to address the “silent suffering” of targets of racism and sexism and ensure that the experiences of minoritized students, faculty of color, and women are heard.

As Mark Warren indicates in Fire in the Heart (2010), building community is a process that must move us from passivity to positive action by “breaking down that separateness and achieving something that is more than the sum of the parts” (p. 229). To do so, we must first face the difficult realities that the VoD identifies and then move toward a deepened collective understanding and common vocabulary that help us activate and operationalize practices that enhance inclusion on our campuses.

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie: A Critical View

To be frank, the magazine Charlie Hebdo deserves criticism, not praise—despite the horrific events that have unfolded. While I am certainly not condoning the murder of its staff members, I do find them guilty of Islam-bashing and inconsiderately expressing religious intolerance, cultural ethnocentrism, and extremely poor human judgment, issues that should be important to antiracists and those who “review” racism. Additionally, being aware of the angst caused by their racist and tasteless cartoons, I find those associated with the magazines’ campaign against Islam to be instigators and un-thoughtful–not creatively satirical–people directly involved in promoting ethno-racial and religious tensions. See NPR’s 2012 story on the social problems caused by publishing the incendiary cartoons. Again, these individuals ought to be condemned as race baiters, not martyred.

The ridiculous display of support for ‘Charlie,’ particularly in the news media, is disconcerting and demonstrates that many people are equally as uninformed and culturally insensitive as those who promoted the anti-Islamist cartoons. Since the attack, most news outlets have ignored the racism and Islam-tarnishing of Charlie Hebdo and are in a rush to glorify the magazine and deify their racist cartoonists. Ignoring the potential of further inflaming ethno-racial tensions and promoting further anti-Muslim bigotry, a number of media giants, such as the Washington Post, have even decided to reprint the blasphemous cartoons of Muhammad in defiance of what they feel is a threat to free speech.

To state that what occurred is “an attack on free speech” is misguided and plainly ignorant. This is a destructive myth espoused by most Western media outlets in their discussion of this event. See, for example, John Avlon’s The Daily Beast article, “Why We Stand with Charlie Hebdo-And You Should Too,” which naively presents the free speech argument. What Charlie Hebdo’s anti-Islamist cartoons represent is hate images and speech, a defamation of a major world religion and culture, and an obvious attack on Muslims. To cloud this reality is intellectual dishonesty in the wake of reactionary politics.

Stoking the flames of racial hatred through dehumanizing others and their beliefs is nothing new; yet, today it is claimed that those who de-humanize certain groups are expressing their free speech or righteousness in their actions. One might ask why KKK pamphlets that demean black Americans, white nationalists’ periodicals that vilify Jews, and past campaigns of dehumanization by national groups, like the US’s racist cartoons of Japanese, are viewed as intolerable and unacceptable, yet the demonization of Muslims and Arabs is granted a pass.

Islam bashing, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab sentiments are on the rise in Europe, and particularly in France, in large part do to the de-humanizing tactics of people like those associated with Charlie Hebdo. The dehumanization and discriminatory practices of Charlie cartoons provide ammunition for the anti-Muslim intolerance endorsed by rising far right groups in Europe, like the British Freedom Party, National Front, English Defense League, Alternative for Germany, Freedom Party in Netherlands, and PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West), to name a few. Problematically, with the aid of people who incite discrimination against Muslims, like the cartoonists and editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo, Islamophobia is now moving from the fringes to the mainstream of European societies. (See Joshua Keating’s Slate article, “Xenophobia is Going Mainstream in Germany.”)

As Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari notes, “the shockwave of the far right National Front polling nearly one-fifth of French voters is still reverberating. Both the socialist candidate and the incumbent president are wooing the support of Marine le Pen” (see Dr. Bari’s Aljazeera article, “Islamophobia: Europe’s’ New Political Disease.”).Indeed, after the attack, as expected, the National Front is attracting more members and support.

Of course, racist and anti-Muslim dehumanizing cartoons are but a symptom of a larger problem that is not addressed, is misdiagnosed or is inverted: European colonialism and the European-sponsored terrorism or Euroterrorism used to support this centuries-old practice. The Iraq war, Afghanistan war, and other Western-sponsored military campaigns against Muslim countries are colonialist wars in which Western powers are attempting to steal natural resources from Muslim countries and rearrange their political structure so that Western business interests might more easily exploit these countries’ people and land. The deaths of innocent Muslims at the hands of Westerners in their colonialist pursuit of profit and power is pure unadulterated terrorism of the worst kind.

Western colonialism that exploded in the late nineteenth century and has been maintained up to this day relied upon and relies upon unimpeded Westerner violence or terrorism, as a number of analysts have documented. In African Perspectives of Colonialism (1987:26-27), A. Adu Boahen explains that Europe’s late nineteenth century technological advances led by the “maxim-gun” promoted Europeans’ “sudden and forceful occupation” of African lands and set in place the “imposition of the colonial system.” Edward Said’s analysis of colonialism, Europeans’ conquest of non-Western lands, in Orientalism (1979) demonstrates that violence and terrorism associated with European colonialism, particularly the British and French versions, are physical as well as cultural and psychological, in certain cases resembling the discriminatory practices and negative imagery of “the Other” discovered in the pages of Charlie Hebdo. In The Wretched of the Earth (1963:36), Franz Fanon observes that colonialism is “marked by violence” and is characterized by “the exploitation of the native by the settler…carried on by dint of a great array of bayonets and cannons.” Undoubtedly, modern day terrorism originated and persists in the practices of Western colonialism and this fact deserves deliberation in any attempt at understanding the various non-Western terrorist acts in reaction to European terrorism.

France’s colonialist exploitation and terrorism of Muslim African nations is one of the primary reasons for the growth of “radical” Islamist groups. Rather than simply dismissing these militarized Islamist groups as anti-Western, Westerners ought to be a little smarter and ask why wouldn’t Muslims attempt to protect their people, land and culture and, in turn, oppose those who terrorize them. Who are the real terrorists? If we consider the numbers of Muslims killed or brutalized at the hands of Westerners in relation to the number of Westerners killed or brutalized by Muslims, the answer is quite clear: terrorists of the West. Ironically, a Western terrorist, Anders Breivik, slaughtered large numbers of Westerners in his anti-Islamist hatred. His mass killing spree slayed far more Westerners on European soil than any attacks by “radicalized” Muslims. Significantly, Breivik’s terrorism was conflated with Islamist terrorism (see the Guardian).

As long as radicalized Westerners accept the killing of innocent Muslims in drone and missile attacks, discount the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, the CIA “black sites,” and other torture facilities, and fail to see how Western colonialism violently maintains operation across the globe, particularly in Muslim countries, the “battle against terrorism” will continue. Along with Europe, the United States has its own zealots and war hawks who promote terrorism directed at Muslim countries. On virtually any day, one can turn to major US news media outlets and witness a host of extremist US politicians, like Peter King, John McCain, Diane Feinstein, Alan West, Michele Bachmann and Chuck Schumer, calling for war or negative actions against one Muslim or Arab country or another. The rhetoric is careless and, at its roots, are the sparks of Western-styled terrorism.

To support US terrorism, French terrorism and other forms of Western terrorism is unconscionable. Similarly, supporting Charlie Hebdo’s discriminatory practices that naturalize and sanctify Euroterrorism against Muslims is abhorrent. Terrorism begets terrorism in a vicious cycle. Neither form can be justified, but the former is where we should direct our focus. For these reasons, Jen ne suis pas Charlie. For those who identify with Charlie, you might re-consider your senseless ties to the racism that Charlie breeds and the racial conflicts that will result from ignorant acceptance of that religious and ethno-racial intolerance and racist ridicule of Others.

A Salute to John Conyers

On January 6, 2015, distinguished guests and US politicians gathered to celebrate the unveiling of Representative (now Dean of the US House of Representatives) John Conyers’ portrait that will now hang rightfully on the walls of the Capitol Building. That this is the first portrait of an African American congressional representative to grace the walls of the House Judiciary committee meeting room in the Capitol is telling. Like all honors earned by African Americans, Conyers’ portrait symbolizes a long, obstacle-laden struggle for recognition of service to the nation and a deserved place in the memory of US politics.

As Vice President Biden remarked, future generations of US lawmakers will respectfully point to this portrait and note the vast achievements Conyers accomplished during his service to and uplift of the American people. Representative James Clyburn correctly observed that Conyers was the catalyst for establishing a new paradigm in American political thought and action. Reflecting on the political capital, leadership skills, mentoring successes, and role model qualities of Conyers, US Attorney General, Eric Holder, stated that he, Barack Obama and other African American government leaders stood on the shoulders of Conyers. Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi made clear that Conyers has battled for the rights of all the disenfranchised and oppressed in the US, championing the Violence Against Women Act (1994) and House Resolution 288, a bill to dissuade religious intolerance, particularly intolerance directing at the US Muslim population.

As the longest serving member in the House of Representatives, John Conyers has advanced a progressive and positively “disruptive” (the term used by Nancy Pelosi) political agenda for fifty years now. During this period, Conyers was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of representatives who have addressed the unique sets of issues affecting the African American community and served as a critical moral consciousness for US government policies and US politicians, including Barack Obama (possibly why Obama was a no show at the unveiling?). One of Conyers’ great achievements was introducing a bill to create a national holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Another profound political effort led by Conyers has been his call for a commission to study reparations for African Americans, to research how slavery has affected the lives of African Americans and the zeitgeist of US society up until this day.

Conyers has fought against the destructive culture and business of online gambling, cuts in Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare, discriminatory electoral practices, hate crimes, and racial profiling. He has introduced legislation and supported projects such as the Alcohol Warning Label Act, Help America Vote Act, Firearm Reduction Initiative, Workforce Investment Act, State Public Funds Protection Act, Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, and the Former Prisoners Project. In his distinct of Southeast Michigan, Conyers has generated a number of programs for economic development and social justice.

Assessing his long list of achievements, it is clear that Conyers fights for the marginalized, dispossessed, oppressed and exploited in US society. This ongoing battle distinguishes the work of Conyers from so many career politicians on the Hill. As just about every speaker at Conyers’ portrait unveiling acknowledged, John Conyers is a rare person of “integrity,” high principles and intellect, human qualities absent among many members of Congress. Indeed, few people work for improving the lives of others, not themselves, and even those who devote their energies toward advancing the human condition rarely possess the devotion and cogency of a person like John Conyers.

Conyers is an unsullied role model for those fighting for racial justice and human justice in general, and should be recognized as one of the true protagonists of US society. While many US citizens will never respect his achievements and a certain element will attempt to vilify his pro-justice actions (he was one of the key figures on Nixon’s “enemy list”), it is up to those who strive for justice and human community to follow, as best they can, in the footsteps of this Giant.

If Michael Brown were Harvard Bound, And White, And Wealthy

During the Fall of 2014, I taught an Introduction to Sociology course at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). We covered numerous concepts & theories, including Broken Windows Theory. This theory was developed by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling to illustrate how one broken window left unrepaired in a building is an invitation for more windows to be broken. If not repaired there can be a downward-spiral of vandalism that culminates into lawlessness. Basically, Broken Windows Theory explains how we rely upon social contexts and cues to assess and/or engage in behaviors considered deviant.

Harvard University is a campus largely absent of broken windows and other forms of esthetic disrepair. When teaching at UNL, I have used Harvard as an elite reference point and will now do so in this article. While working on my PhD at Harvard, I lived in an undergraduate Residence House (that’s Harvard speak for “dormitory”) and worked as a Resident Tutor (that’s Harvard speak for “resident assistant”). I had conversations with Harvard undergrads on numerous occasions including breakfast/lunch/dinner. I was always amazed by the privileged backgrounds of typical Harvard students. Though from a low-income background, I gained knowledge about the mannerisms, dress, and linguistic maneuvers of elitism while an undergrad at Georgetown University. I was, however, quick to correct persons at Harvard who assumed I shared their elite origins. Still, interactions with Harvard students from elite backgrounds moved me to empathize with the vulnerabilities of elite youths.

Among vulnerable students were wealthy sons emotionally neglected by their wealthy parents; sons desperate for emotional support. There were wealthy daughters deeply worried that they would fail parental expectations by wanting to play in a rock band instead of becoming doctors/lawyers/scientists/professors, and so on.

Two students that I came to know quite well shared stories of tribulation and triumph. One student, TJ, had hypothesized a fantastic science project despite inadequate support for his idea. After access to a Harvard science lab and a thoughtfully written report, TJ earned an “A”. Another student, GW, endured a confrontational encounter with a rude police officer; GW stood his ground and called for mutual respect. A third student, DJ, had shoplifted some goods before coming to Harvard. His parents used their clout to prevent DJ from serving jail/prison time. (Though vastly true, I have modified minor details of these stories to protect the students’ anonymity.)

At Harvard broken windows are constantly repaired. Transgressions are washed away or significantly minimized by a “Hahvarhd” affiliation. DJ and many elite students with histories of juvenile delinquency like him are now successful Harvard alums.

As I share stories about students I met while at Harvard, what images come to mind: Images of wealthy, White, students full of complex humanity; students who deserve to achieve their dreams; young women/men who are not easily reduced to individual mistakes or parental shortcomings? Actually, two examples above are NOT about Harvard students. What happens to the image of these students as I reveal that “TJ” was an African American teen and “GW” was an Afro-Latino-American teen; both were from low-income neighborhoods in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Are TJ and GW suddenly less deserving of the benefit of the doubt; do racial/ethnic and class details strip away their complex humanity? To learn more about TJ (aka “Malik”) and GW (aka “Robbie”), read my book Tough Fronts (2002). I came to know them while at Harvard not because they were Harvard students, but because they were middle and high school students from low-income neighborhoods in Cambridge who shared stories of mistreatment and oppression eclipsed by Harvard’s affluence. I interviewed them for my dissertation and for Tough Fronts. I arranged Malik’s access to the Harvard science lab. Doing so briefly bestowed Malik with enough Harvard clout to cause his middle-school teacher to suddenly see his potential to be an A-student in 8th-grade science. Of course, Malik’s Harvard clout was fleeting. As for Robbie, his respect for Cambridge police was not reciprocated. Malik and Robbie were (and still are) no less complexly human than the Harvard students with whom I lived; yet they were constantly treated as such by powerful social institutions like schools, police departments, and social service agencies.

What happens to your image of Harvard when I tell you that in addition to DJ there are Harvard students—and I’m talking about wealthy, White students—who shoplift and commit other crimes. This was the case well before I went to Harvard. It was the case while I attended Harvard during the 1990s. And continues well after I graduated with my PhD. For example, Harvard students who shoplift include the daughter of Rudy Giuliani.

Let’s return to DJ, who actually was one of the Harvard students from my Residence House and who was White and Male and Wealthy. Let’s update his story and try to strip DJ of his complex humanity by providing his shoplifting story with a different ending.

In August of 2014, before his freshman year at Harvard, DJ shoplifts some limited edition Gurkha Maharaja Cigars costing $2,000 per cigar, from M&M Cigar and Gift in Norwalk, Connecticut. DJ returns to his neighborhood of wealthy White professionals in Darien, Connecticut. As DJ exits his 2014 Porsche 911 Carrera, a police car pulls onto his street. DJ, known for being spoiled and obnoxious, has hubris enough to be confrontational with the police officer. At what point does this White police office fire a gun at this 18-year-old, Harvard bound, White male suspected of shoplifting? At what point does this police officer continue shooting at DJ who has now walked away from the confrontation? At what point does the officer continue to fire as DJ turns around with his hands up? At what point does the officer use deadly force and kill DJ? At what point is DJ’s body left on the street in his White professional, Darien, Connecticut neighborhood for four hours? At what point do the police prevent DJ’s parents from going to their son’s dead body? At what point is the police officer not held accountable once it is clear that he shot and killed an unarmed, college-bound, 18-year-old? At what point does the Assistant District Attorney tell the Grand Jury that the police officer had the right to shoot DJ because he had turned to flee? Few if any of these things would happen to a Wealthy, White teen like DJ, yet most if not all happened to Michael Brown, who was also a college-bound 18-year old male.

Experiences with Harvard students, especially wealthy, White male students, lead me to conclude that at no point would DJ share Michael’s fate. If DJ had been caught stealing the cigars, he would probably have been detained at the store while his parents were contacted. Or as was the case with Rudy Giuliani’s daughter, Caroline Giuliani, store managers may call the police yet decline to press charges! In elite places where broken windows are constantly repaired, people honor the complex humanity of young people, who commit or are suspected of committing criminal acts. Unlike unprivileged youths, privileged youths are not easily stripped of their complex humanity.

I can personally assure you that the absence of broken windows at Harvard does not mean an absence of deviant behavior. Despite well-manicured lawns and unbroken windows there are Harvard students who deal drugs as well as those who commit rape and other heinous acts. Studies on the youths of privilege reveal that they have higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other destructive behaviors than non-privileged youths. Furthermore, the presence of broken windows in urban communities of color does not mean an absence of complex humanity.

I have been to the place where Michael Brown was shot dead as if he were an aggressive monster instead of an unarmed teenager, like DJ; it is not a neighborhood full of broken windows. But even if it were, Michael and Black youths like him, whether males or females, deserve the same benefit of the doubt as privileged youths like DJ and Caroline Giuliani. And for places where windows are rarely repaired, the police should honor the humanity of youths as they would honor the humanity of spoiled and obnoxious rich kids. And at the very least, instead of destroying more windows with bullets from guns aimed to kill unarmed teens, police and other government officials should assist residents to restore shattered lives and broken windows. This is all the more necessary in Ferguson, Missouri where the police and government officials share a legacy of shattering the lives of African Americans.

L. Janelle Dance, Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Senior Researcher at Lund University in Sweden, with sociological input from Selma Hedlund, Sociology Master’s Student, Columbia University.

On Black Death and LGBTQ Politics

On Friday, December 12, I had the profound pleasure of attending the Kessler Award ceremony hosted by The Center for LGBTQ Studies: CLAGS at The Graduate Center, CUNY in honor of Professor Cathy J. Cohen (University of Chicago). Cohen has a large body of work at the intersection of race, class, gender and sexuality, but is perhaps best known for a 1997 GLQ article, referenced this talk, called, “Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics” (locked). The title of her talk was, “#Do Black Lives Matter? From Michael Brown to CeCe McDonald: On Black Death and LGBTQ Politics.” What follows is a brief summary of her remarks, and the video and transcript are linked below.

Cohen’s talk began with the screening of a video that included the murders of Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Kaijeme Powell, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice in one devastating 2-minute clip, she said to “re-center us and remind us what the movement is about.”

Cohen then turned to a discussion of the context surrounding the murder of Michael Brown, what she calls the ‘multicultural turn in neoliberalism.’ She uses the traditional definition of neoliberalism, as a “prioritizing of markets and a corresponding commitment to the dismantling or devolution of social welfare.” She argues that with the election of the first African American president in Barack Obama, neoliberalism has taken a “multicultural turn” that requires us to “complicate our understanding of state power and neoliberal agendas.” About this, and as part of her critique of Obama, she said:

Colorblind racial ideology, by both decrying racism and designating anti-racism as probably one of the country’s newly found core values, actually works to obscure the relationship between identity and privilege. Thus, through colorblind ideology one can claim to be in solidarity with black people while at the same time denigrating the condition of poor black people, faulting them for their behaviors or lack of a work ethic and not their race. Moreover, one could declare that ‘black lives matter’ while undermining any state-sponsored programs that would address the special needs of poor black people. One could say, in fact, that I’m heartbroken with the death of Trayvon Martin because if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon, and recognize that that means nothing in terms of justice for black people.

She began here, with neoliberalism and its multicultural turn because “it is a reminder of the sustained attack on the basic humanity of poor black people that provides the context in which we should understand the killing of young black people, in particular young black men, and the less visible assaults on black women and the murder of black trans people.”

The second section of her talk, called “Performing Solidarity: LGBT Complicity = Black Death,” was a thorough recap of the critique made by Urvashi Vaid, Lisa Duggan, Dean Spade and Michael Warner, of the way that mainstream (read: predominantly white) LGBT organizations have prioritized a neoliberal agenda with policies agendas that emphasize, marriage, access to the military and increased criminalization through hate crime legislation. Then, she argued that the kinds of letters issued by mainstream LGBT organizations in support of Michael Brown’s family

The third part of her talk, which she called “This is Not the Civil Rights Movement: The Queering of Black Liberation,” is where she addressed the possibility of transformational politics. She began this section by screening this short video:

This young brother, Tory Russell is from Hands Up United, one of the grassroots groups organizing people in Ferguson, Missouri. In response to a question from Gwen Ifill (PBS Newshour) about what he sees happening now, Russell says:

“I mean it’s younger, it’s fresher. I think we’re more connected than most people think. I don’t, this is not the civil rights movement, you can tell by how I got a hat on, I got my t-shirt, and how I rock my shoes. This is not the civil rights movement. This is an oppressed peoples’ movement. So when you see us, you gonna see some gay folk, you gonna see some queer folk, you gonna see some poor black folk, you gonna see some brown folk, you gonna see some white people and we all out here for the same reasons, we wanna be free.”

In many ways, Russell here articulates Cohen’s vision for transformational politics and what she refers to as substantive, rather than performative, solidarity.

Cohen, along with a growing chorus of voices, sees what is happening now as a movement, rather than simply a momentary response to aggressive policing.

Near the end of her talk, Cohen describes this movement, echoing Russell, as a “movement made up, as Tory Russell described, made up of some gays, some queer folk, some poor black people, some brown folks, some white folks, …all of them united in their position as oppressed people, aka politically queer, and all fighting for freedom, not marriage, not increased criminalization, not access to the military, but for freedom.”

You can view Cohen’s lecture online here (beginning about the 25:50 mark). A transcript of Cohen’s remarks is available here.

Juan Flores (1943-2014): A Remembrance of a Great Scholar

Deep in the labyrinth of the CUNY Graduate Center in 2004, a seminar on Afro-Latin@s in the United States was being offered via the city-wide consortium. I was nearly done with my doctoral course work in Public & Urban Policy at the New School and needed a couple of electives before the dreaded qualifying examination. One of the program’s advisors at the time, concerned that the seminar would be missing “policy relevance” I needed for my dissertation, had planted seeds of doubt. But it was the interdisciplinary instructor of the course (whose Ph.D was in German Literature), who upon listening to my potential dissertation topic during first day introductions, interrupted me mid-sentence with his signature smile and said: “You really need this course.”

On December 2, 2014, Juan Flores, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, passed away in Durham, North Carolina, a few weeks after he had contributed to an academic conference at Duke University. An award-winning and prolific scholar on Puerto Rican, Latin@ and Afro-Latin@ culture and identity, it is not an understatement to write that Juan’s contributions not only left an indelible mark across multiple disciplines, but also amongst his former students. When Juan interrupted my own train of thought in that moment in 2004, it was clear that he had deliberately attempted to interrupt my research. At the time, I had specifically been exploring the roots of the ethnic enclave in Miami and proposed to rehash a theory that popped up in the sociology and economics literature in the 1980s, one that suggested that such notoriously segregated bastions of exploitation could actually be beneficial for newcomers. If the “ethnic enclave” was argued to be so good for the 1960s Cuban exiles and subsequent generations, would the same hold true for black Cubans? While few black Cubans ended up in Miami overall, even after the more diverse Mariel boatlift (1980), for those that did, how did they fare as compared to their “white” counterparts and other Latin@s in the region? Did the “owners” and progenitors of the newly ballyhooed “ethnic economy,” once viewed by the Chicago school as a necessary “decompression chamber” before eventual socioeconomic integration for children of immigrants, extend the same privileges to their black co-ethnics? If not, how should the state respond?

When Juan Flores became my professor, he challenged the methodological contours of my scholarly inquiry, despite feeling fields away in the land of urban policy analysis. His Socratic intervention was desperately needed at a time when “numbers” dominated my method of inquiry, economic theories were my prevailing explanatory referent, and my application of interdisciplinary and transnational perspectives was minimal. But to get there, Juan taught me through expertise and exposure, I needed theoretical understandings of race and racialization in the Americas, particularly Cuba. I (read: we) needed to dig deeper into Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz’s view of Cubanidad, which Juan had us critique in the seminar, as an expression of “color-blind” nationalism that seemed to involve everyone but Afro-Cubans. We needed to understand how the “Latin@ propensity to uphold mestizaje (racial and cultural mixture),” as he and fellow collaborator and life partner Miriam Jiménez Román wrote in the Afro-Latin@ Reader, was indeed an “exceptionalist and wishful panacea,” deeply embedded in the contours of anti-blackness (Román and Flores, 2010: 3).

We needed to understand how the stigma of claiming a black identity contributed to the undercounting (hence statistical understanding and political mal-representation) of our Afro-Latin@ herman@s here and abroad, evidence of his deep understanding of the crucial role of the state on peoples’ everyday livelihoods. In essence, we needed broad, interdisciplinary understandings of not just the oppressive structures of the United States (which dominates the urban policy literature on U.S. Latin@s), but also the present racial inequalities deeply rooted in the colonial contours of Latin America, with specific attention to the racial baggage that accompanies migration and transnational processes.

Juan’s death is a tremendous intellectual loss. As a peer eloquently echoed in conversation over Juan’s contributions, he knew how to enlarge and expand the theoretical and content knowledge of his students and colleagues, interventions and “interruptions” so crucial and necessary for student activism and scholarship that informed Puerto Rican/Latin@ Studies during its formative years, and now the burgeoning Afro-Latin@ Studies field. To borrow from one of the many “tweets” reflecting on Juan’s impact on our lives: Rest in Power, hermano.

Alan A. Aja is Assistant Professor & Deputy Chair in the Department of Puerto Rican & Latin@ Studies at Brooklyn College (CUNY). His sole and collaborative research on inter-group disparities has been published in Latino/a Research Review, Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics & Culture, Social Research, Dissent, Ethnic Studies Review (forthcoming), the Huffington Post and the Washington Post. Aja recently completed a manuscript on the Afro-Cuban experience in South Florida.

Mickey the Dog and Kevin the Child

In Phoenix on February, 2014 a pit bull named Mickey attacked a 5-year-old named Kevin Vicente. According to the Arizona Republic, Kevin arrived at Maricopa Medical Center “with skin and tissue ripped off his face, a broken eye socket, detached tear ducts and a fractured jaw.” Kevin “eats and breathes through tubes while awaiting a series of reconstructive surgeries. “ He is expected to have permanent and painful scarring.

It seems that Mickey has a history of violence. A few months before his attack on Kevin, Mickey killed a neighbor’s dog. According to a County Report, Kevin was playing with other children in the presence of a baby sitter. Kevin ran past Mickey, within the range of Mickey’s chain, who “caught the boy from behind, took him to the ground and attacked his face . . . Adults were present and pulled the dog off.” Accounts of the incident are mixed. A neighbor who witnessed the event said that what provoked the attack was that Kevin took one of the dog’s bones.

Dogs may bite someone who takes their bones, but what Mickey did went far beyond that. John Schill, Mickey ‘s attorney , did not seem to agree. He blames the child: “Everybody supports Mickey. . . . Everybody is taught, from the moment they walk, you do not take a bone from a dog.”

Let me get this straight, Mr. Schill: a 5 year old in the middle of play has the nerve to take a vicious dog’s bone and the dog almost kills him. Man, “that’ll teach the little brat.”

Support for Mickey has been so extraordinary that it boggles the mind. An ABC news report outlines steps taken by Mickey’s friends to save his life.

Action was brought against Mickey, asking for him to be euthanized. A Phoenix attorney stepped in on behalf of Mickey and after several months of legal battles and an outcry from tens of thousands of people on social media asking Mickey’s life be spared, a judge ruled that Mickey is indeed vicious but his life could be saved if an appropriate sanctuary could be found.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio got in the act. The details of his intervention may be found at Mickey’s cam website:

He [Arpaio] went to court on behalf of the dog and offered the judge a way to save Mickey ….the Sheriff’s Office would give Mickey a ‘life sentence’ inside Arpaio’s MASH jail (Maricopa County Sheriff’s Animal Safe House). The pit bull would be offered no parole, and no probation in exchange for taking the death sentence off the table.

Incidentally, “Cam” refers to the fact that Mickey‘s website includes live footage of the pit bull in his living area.

Although the boy’s needs are serious, the concern for him doesn’t come close to that of Mickey’s:

[A] fundraising website for Kevin and his mother [has] raised $1,179 as of Tuesday [March 11]. . .Flora Medrano [a neighbor]said Kevin’s mother, a single parent, had to quit her job to take care of her son full time. With no other family in the U.S., Medrano said, the mother needs family and emotional support — yet neither is pouring in.

The 5-year-old Latino is in pain and suffers from nightmares. “He asks me [his mother] when his scars will go away. I say I don’t know.”

Has this (white) country lost its mind? A vicious dog that mauls a 5-year-old child has a big following, a lawyer, and its own website? A sheriff gets involved in the fate of the dog, but does nothing to help a gravely injured and poor child. The little boy is blamed for being nearly killed by a vicious dog and damaged for life. But it is the dog that captures the white public’s imagination. This seems the epitome of human degeneracy.

The obvious issue of race was addressed in only one of the articles I found. Its author puts it succinctly:

I may be wrong, but I seriously doubt that the pit bull would be alive if Kevin was a little white child, whose mother spoke English fluently.

Black Lives Matter Protests in NYC and DC

Over the weekend in New York City and Washington, DC thousands of people marched in protest against racist police violence in the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and so many others. The march in NYC, which I attended, was a multi-ethnic, multi-racial crowd of people from many different backgrounds. While there were folks there of all ages, the march was youth-led and organized, mostly through social media and with little to no money, as Linda Sarour observed on Twitter.

I took a bunch of photos that day, but lost them in an ill-timed software update on my phone. It’s just as well because none of my photos were as good as some of the others, like this one of a haunting series of posters of Eric Garner’s eyes.

Eric Garner's Eyes on protest signs

 (Image source: Joel Franco)

While estimates of the crowd in NYC varied widely (from 12,000 to 50,000), this amazing time-lapsed video taken at the intersection of 6th Avenue and 29th Street of the march in NYC gives you some idea of the scale of the protests:

The rallying cry for the march and the movement, is #BlackLivesMatter, which was created by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, as a call to action following the murder of Trayvon Martin. Garza has authored a compelling piece at The Feminist Wire about the attempts at theft and co-opting a movement started by queer, women of color. Garza explains the deeply intersectional vision behind #BlackLivesMatter:

“Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes. It goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within some Black communities, which merely call on Black people to love Black, live Black and buy Black, keeping straight cis Black men in the front of the movement while our sisters, queer and trans and disabled folk take up roles in the background or not at all. Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.”

This is a movement, not a moment, and on Saturday I was humbled to be able to walk as part of it. Today, I’m grateful that I’ve lived long enough to see the start of this movement.